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The Latest: Modi’s Defeat, Cryptocurrency Spikes, Colosseum’s New Floor

Inter Milan supporters are celebrating outside the Duomo di Milano after the Italian soccer team won the Serie A title for the first time in 11 years, ending Juventus’ nine-year reign in Italy.
Inter Milan supporters are celebrating outside the Duomo di Milano after the Italian soccer team won the Serie A title for the first time in 11 years, ending Juventus’ nine-year reign in Italy.

Welcome to Monday, where Modi loses a key state after COVID backlash, a different cryptocurrency record is broken and the ancient Colosseum gets a high-tech remodeling. Warsaw-based daily Gazeta Wyborcza also looks at how Poland's long-time right-wing leader Jarosław Kaczyńsk may be losing his grip on power.

• Modi's ruling party loses key state amid COVID surge: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party has been defeated in West Bengal. Campaign rallies and voting have caused a new surge in COVID cases, with daily cases topping 300,000 for ten days in a row.

• Philippines Foreign Minister attacks Beijing over South China Sea: Manila's top diplomat used harsh language to threaten China as the running regional territorial dispute escalates.

• U.S. denies Iran nuclear deal sealed: After Iran announced Sunday that a new accord had been signed with Washington that included an exchange of prisoners for billions of dollars, U.S. officials said "no deal" had yet been reached to halt Tehran's nuclear program.

• Eight more killed in Myanmar protests: Security forces in Myanmar opened fire on demonstrators on Sunday, leaving at least eight people dead in one of the biggest protests against the junta in recent days.

• 26 killed in boat accident in Bangladesh: At least 26 people died and others went missing after an overcrowded boat crashed into a sand carrier. Five people were rescued and sent to the hospital.

• Colombia's president withdraws tax bill: Colombian President Ivan Duque announced on Sunday the withdrawal of a controversial tax reform bill following days of massive protests across the country.

• New floor for the Colosseum: The Italian government has announced a €18.5 million plan to furnish Rome's ancient Colosseum with a new floor. Cultural events could be held there once the floor is rebuilt.


Weekly magazine India Today reports on the country's struggle to save lives amidst the fight against a deadly second wave, as cases approach the 20 million mark.

The cracks in Kaczyński's grip on Poland are starting to show

Poland's long-time right-wing leader Jarosław Kaczyńsk is struggling to appease his coalition partners, raising the possibility of a realignment among the country's various political factions, reports Marek Beylin in Warsaw-based Gazeta Wyborcza.

Jarosław Kaczyńsk of the hard-right Law and Justice Party, the PiS, has long followed one simple rule: "I am Kaczyński and I can do anything I want." He's taken a similar approach with regards to the Reconstruction Fund, as the EU's multi-billion-euro proposed recovery package is called. "We will take the money and do whatever we want with it." These declarations no longer hold the same weight, though, now that Kaczyński's coalition partners are refusing to ratify the Fund. To get his way, in other words, the Polish leader will have to pact with the opposition, but he has no clue how.

During a recent gathering of the conservative Agreement party, one of the PiS's coalition partners, party leader Jarosław Gowin presented a program that landed like a slap in Kaczyński's face: a strong middle class, warm relations with the EU, a friendly separation of Church and State. These are demands that clearly diverge from Kaczyński's program. "This is a further step away from PiS," said Rafał Chwedoruk, a political scientist sympathetic to the PiS party.

Within his camp, there's a growing awareness that Kaczyński can't cope with the crisis of power that he himself created. Recent comments by Józef Orzeł, a PiS loyalist and member of Kaczyński's inner circle, were telling in this regard. "Bit by bit, the PiS party is repeating all the mistakes made by its predecessors, especially those committed by the Civic Platform from the end of its second term," he said. "It's only a matter of time before the opposition reaches its breaking point."

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com



Norway's second biggest city bans naming streets after men

The southern Norwegian city of Bergen has approved a ban on naming future streets and public spaces after men.

Norwegian daily Dagbladet reported last week that the decision came after a years-long debate over historical sexism, as 9 out of 10 streets dedicated to figures of the past have male names, including the likes of legendary Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen and Olaf Kyrre, or Olaf III, the 11th-century King of Norway credited with founding the port city.

The move has sparked lively political debate in the city of 284,000, with representatives from center and right-wing parties questioning the ban's relevance and legality. To Charlotte Spurkeland, city council representative for the Conservative Party, the ban is a "prohibition policy typical of the identity-political left." Meanwhile, Silje Hjemdal of the right-wing Progress Party suggests the ban could be violating anti-discrimination laws.

Council member Katrine Nødtvedt, who voted for the man, argued that equal representation around public places in the city is crucial in order for girls to "feel they can achieve the same things."

While the ban is considered temporary, meant to stay in place only until full street-name equality has been achieved, there is much work to be done to begin naming and re-naming streets after notable women who are no longer alive. Time indeed to rethink how we look at history.

➡️ Keep up with all the planet's police reports and plot twists on Worldcrunch.com

$3,144.81

Ethereum, the world's second largest digital currency, broke past $3,000 for the first time to set a new record high. The cryptocurrency is now up 325% on a year-to-date basis, compared with 95% for the more popular Bitcoin.

The fate of the country was at stake.

— In an interview with Euronews, Belarus Foreign Affairs minister Vladimir Makei defended the government's crackdown on the mass protests which followed President Alexander Lukashenko's contested re-election in August 2020. Thousands were arrested and members of the opposition went into exile. "There was an attempt at a coup d"état. Therefore, the actions of law enforcement agencies and authorities were absolutely adequate and necessary," he added.

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Coronavirus

Where Lockdowns For LGBTQ Meant Moving Back In With Homophobic Relatives

The confinement experience could turn brutal for those forced to live with relatives who would not tolerate a member of the family living their sexual orientation openly as a young adult. Here are stories from urban and rural India.

At a Rainbow pride walk in Kolkata, India

Sreemanti Sengupta

Abhijith had been working as a radio jockey in the southern Indian city of Thiruvananthapuram when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, 2020. When the government imposed a nationwide lockdown, Abhijith returned to the rural Pathanamthitta district , where his parents live with an extended family, including uncles, cousins and grandparents.

Eighteen months later, he recalled that the experience was "unbearable" because he had to live with homophobic relatives. "Apart from the frequent reference to my sexual 'abnormality', they took me to a guruji to 'cure' me," Abhijith recalled. "He gave me something to eat, which made me throw up. The guru assured me that I was throwing up whatever 'demon' was possessing me and 'making' me gay."


Early in 2021, Abhijith travelled back to Thiruvananthapuram, where he found support from the members of the queer collective.

Inspired by their work, he also decided to work towards uplifting the queer community. "I wish no one else goes through the mental trauma I have endured," said Abhijit.

Abhijith's story of mental distress arising from family abuse turns out to be all too common among members of India's LGBTQ+ community, many of whom were trapped in their homes and removed from peer support groups during the pandemic.

Oppressive home situations

As India continues to reel from a pandemic that has claimed more lives (235,524) in three months of the second wave (April-June 2021) than in the one year before that (162,960 deaths in March 2020-March 2021), the LGBTQ community has faced myriad problems. Sexual minorities have historically suffered from mainstream prejudice and the pandemic has aggravated socio-economic inequalities, instigated family and institutionalized abuse, apart from limiting access to essential care. This has resulted in acute mental distress which has overwhelmed queer support infrastructure across the country.

Speaking to queer collective representatives across India, I learned that the heightened levels of distress in the community was due to longstanding factors that were triggered under lockdown conditions. Family members who are intolerant of marginalized sexual identities, often tagging their orientation as a "disorder" or "just a phase", have always featured among the main perpetrators of subtle and overt forms of violence towards queer, trans and homosexual people.

Calls from lesbians and trans men to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns.

Sappho For Equality, a Kolkata-based feminist organization that works for the rights of sexually marginalized women and trans men, recorded a similar trend. Early in the first wave, the organization realized that the existing helpline number was getting overwhelmed with distress calls. It added a second helpline number. The comparative figures indicate a 13-fold jump in numbers: from 290 calls in April 2019-March 20 to 3,940 calls in April 2020-May 2021.

"Most of the calls we have been getting from lesbians and trans men are urgent appeals to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns," said Shreosi, a Sappho member and peer support provider. "If they happen to resist, they are either evicted or forced to flee home. But where to house them? There aren't so many shelters, and ours is at full capacity."

Shreosi says that the nature of distress calls has also changed. "Earlier people would call in for long-term help, such as professional mental health support. But during the pandemic, it has changed to immediate requests to rescue from oppressive home situations. Often, they will speak in whispers so that the parents can't hear."

Lack of spaces

Like many of his fellow queer community members, life for Sumit P., a 30-year-old gay man from Mumbai, has taken a turn for the worse. The lockdown has led to the loss of safe spaces and prolonged residence at home.

"It has been a really difficult time since the beginning of the lockdown. I am suffering from a lot of mental stress since I cannot freely express myself at home. Even while making a call, I have to check my surroundings to see if anybody is there. If I try to go out, my family demands an explanation. I feel suffocated," he said.

The pandemic has forced some queer people to come out

Sumit is also dealing with a risk that has hit the community harder than others – unemployment and income shortage. He's opened a cafe with two other queer friends, which is now running into losses. For others, pandemic-induced job losses have forced queer persons from all over the country to return to their home states and move in with their families who've turned abusive during this long period of confinement.

Lockdowns force coming out

According to Kolkata-based physician, filmmaker and gay rights activist Tirthankar Guha Thakurata, the pandemic has forced some queer people to come out, succumbing to rising discomfort and pressure exerted by homophobic families.

"In most cases, family relations sour when a person reveals their identity. But many do not flee home. They find a breathing space or 'space out' in their workspaces. In the absence of these spaces, mental problems rose significantly," he said.

Not being able to express themselves freely in front of parents who are hostile, intolerant and often address transgender persons by their deadname or misgender them has created situations of severe distress, suicidal thoughts and self-harm.

Psychiatrist and queer feminist activist Ranjita Biswas (she/they) cites an incident. A gender-nonconforming person died under suspicious circumstances just days after leaving their peer group and going home to their birth parents. The final rites were performed with them dressed in bangles and a saree.

"When a member of our community asked their mother why she chose a saree for someone who had worn androgynous clothes all their life, she plainly said it was natural because after all, the deceased 'was her daughter,'" Biswas recalls.

The Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling

David Talukdar/ZUMA

"Correctional" therapy

In India, queer people's access to professional mental healthcare has been "very limited," according to community members such as Ankan Biswas, India's first transgender lawyer who has been working with the Human Rights Law Network in West Bengal.

"A large majority of the psychiatrists still consider homosexuality as a disorder and practice 'correctional therapy'. It's only around the big cities that some queer-friendly psychiatrists can be found," Biswas said. "The pandemic has further widened the inequalities in access to mental health support for India's LGBTQ community."

Biswas is spending anxious days fielding an overwhelming amount of calls and rescue requests from queer members trapped in their homes, undergoing mental, verbal and even physical torture. "We don't have the space, I just tell them to wait and bear it a little longer," he said.

Medical care is dismal

Anuradha Krishnan's story, though not involving birth family, outlines how the lack of physical support spaces have affected India's queer population. Abandoned by her birth family when she came out to them as a trans woman in 2017, Anuradha Krishnan (she/they), founder of Queerythm in Kerala who is studying dentistry, had to move into an accommodation with four other persons.

Isolation triggered my depression

"I am used to talking and hanging around with friends. Isolation triggered my depression and I had to seek psychiatric help." Living in cramped quarters did not help with quarantine requirements and all of them tested positive during the first wave.

What is deeply worrying is that the Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling, placing more and more pressure on queer collectives and peer support groups whose resources are wearing thin.

During the 10 months of the first wave of the pandemic in India in 2020, Y'all, a queer collective based in Manipur, received about 1,000 distress calls on their helpline number from LGBTQ+ individuals. In May 2021 alone, they received 450 such calls (including texts and WhatsApp messages) indicating a telling escalation in the number of queer people seeking help during the second wave.

As India's queer-friendly mental health support infrastructure continues to be tested, Y'all founder, Sadam Hanjabam, a gay man, says, "Honestly, we are struggling to handle such a large number of calls, it is so overwhelming. We are also dealing with our own anxieties. We are burning out."

Sreemanti Sengupta is a freelance writer, poet, and media studies lecturer based in Kolkata.

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